The Martian Surface Reactor: An Advanced Nuclear Power Station for Manned Extraterrestrial Exploration
Author(s)Bushman, A.; Carpenter, D. M.; Ellis, T. S.; Gallagher, S. P.; Hershcovitch, M. D.; Hine, M. C.; Johnson, E. D.; Kane, S. C.; Presley, M. R.; Roach, A. H.; Shaikh, S.; Short, M. P.; Stawicki, M. A.; ... Show more Show less
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nuclear Space Applications
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As part of the 22.033/22.33 Nuclear Systems Design project, this group designed a 100 kW[subscript e] Martian/Lunar surface reactor system to work for 5 EFPY in support of extraterrestrial human exploration efforts. The reactor design was optimized over the following criteria: small mass and size, controllability, launchability/accident safety, and high reliability. The Martian Surface Reactor was comprised of four main systems: the core, power conversion system, radiator and shielding. The core produces 1.2 MW[subscript th] and operates in a fast spectrum. Li heat pipes cool the core and couple to the power conversion system. The heat pipes compliment the chosen pintype fuel geometry arranged in a tri-cusp configuration. The reactor fuel is UN (33.1w/o enriched), the cladding and structural materials in core are Re, and a Hf vessel encases the core. The reflector is Zr[subscript 3]Si[subscript 2], chosen for its high albedo. Control is achieved by rotating drums, using a TaB[subscript 2] shutter material. Under a wide range of postulated accident scenarios, this core remains sub-critical and poses minimal environmental hazards. The power conversion system consists of three parts: a power conversion unit, a transmission system and a heat exchanger. The power conversion unit is a series of cesium thermionic cells, each one wrapped around a core heat pipe. The thermionic emitter is Re at 1800 K, and the collector is molybdenum at 950 K. These units, operating at 10[superscript +]% efficiency, produce 125 kW[subscript e] DC and transmit 100 kW[subscript e] AC. The power transmission system includes 25 separate DC-to-AC converters, transformers to step up the transmission voltage, and 25 km of 22 gauge copper wire for actual electricity transmission. The remaining 900 kWth then gets transmitted to the heat pipes of the radiator via an annular heat pipe heat exchanger that fits over the thermionics. This power conversion system was designed with much redundancy and high safety margins; the highest percent power loss due to a single point failure is 4%. The radiator is a series of potassium heat pipes with carbon-carbon fins attached. For each core heat pipe there is one radiator heat pipe. The series of heat pipe/fin combinations form a conical shell around the reactor. There is only a 10 degree temperature drop between the heat exchanger and radiator surface, making the radiating temperature 940 K. In the radiator, the maximum cooling loss due to a single point failure is less than 1%. The shielding system is a bi-layer shadow shield that covers an 80º arc of the core. The inner layer of the shield is a boron carbide neutron shield; the outer layer is a tungsten gamma shield. The tungsten shield is coated with SiC to prevent oxidation in the Martian atmosphere. At a distance of 11 meters from the reactor, on the shielded side, the radiation dose falls to an acceptable 2 mrem/hr; on the unshielded side, an exclusion zone extends to 14 m from the core. The shield is movable to protect crew no matter the initial orientation of the core. When combined together, the four systems comprise the MSR. The system is roughly conical, 4.8 m in diameter and 3 m tall. The total mass of the reactor is 6.5 MT.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems. Nuclear Space Applications